Remembering Tony Snow

by Yuval Levin

When Tony Snow first came on board as press secretary, folks on the White House staff (as I was at the time) treated him like a celebrity, and looked for excuses to attend meetings where he would be. But the quality that most struck me then about Tony, whom I hadn’t met before, was not his energy and enthusiasm (which were wonderful—“a breath of fresh air” is quite right) but his deep and intensely cheerful curiosity.

In his first week in the job, I made the mistake of sending Tony a half page of “talking points” about an issue I was charged with that was likely to come up that day. This was how his predecessor had preferred to get information from the policy staff. I quickly got a call from Snow saying that was all very nice, but why don’t we talk in some detail instead about what had happened, the background, the people involved, the history, the parts reporters may not know about that ought to shape our response. This was like a dream come true for us White House wonks, and it was also one of the most peculiar telephone conversations I’ve ever had. We didn’t know each other when he called, and by the end of that fifteen or twenty minute conversation, he not only knew all about the issue in question, he knew all about me, my family, and my life, and I knew more about him than I do about some people I’ve known for years. Needless to say, in that afternoon’s briefing, when the subject did come up, Tony batted the question out of the park, putting things much better than I had on the phone.

It quickly became apparent as the weeks went by that this would be his general practice. And more importantly, it became clear that he wanted to learn everything he could not only so that he could speak with some depth and authority to the press (the AP couldn’t be more wrong about that), but also because he himself was moved by a love of the little details and the big stories. This was an important part of his infectious enthusiasm. His love of life and his amazement at our country had to do with an appreciation for how the little pieces added up, and what extraordinary things happen here every day. His deep reserve of principle, love, and faith was never far from the surface, and he drew on it easily and often, even as the surface was always bubbling with excitement, confidence, and optimism.

Above all, a good and decent man. RIP